January 23, 2019 / 10:30 AM / 7 months ago

Third former Tesco director cleared of fraud over 2014 scandal

LONDON (Reuters) - The last of three former senior directors of Tesco (TSCO.L) accused of fraud at Britain’s biggest retailer in 2014 has been formally acquitted, leaving the Serious Fraud Office without a conviction for the accounting scandal.

Former Tesco executive Carl Rogberg makes a statement outside Southwark Crown Court in London, Britain January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Carl Rogberg, 52, a former Tesco UK finance director, was tried last year along with former UK managing director Christopher Bush, 53, and former UK food commercial director John Scouler, 50. The trial was abandoned in February after Rogberg suffered a heart attack.

Bush and Scouler were acquitted in December at the mid-point of a retrial, the judge ruling there was no case to answer. Rogberg was removed from the re-trial indictment due to ill-health and was formally acquitted at Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday with the SFO offering no evidence.

“It is a huge relief that this day has finally come,” Rogberg said outside the London court.

“While I always had faith that it would, the journey here has not been an easy one,” he said, noting the toll it had taken on his health, family and friends.

Echoing comments from Bush and Scouler in December, Rogberg was critical of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which brought the case, and of Tesco.

“In short, there was never any evidence of my wrongdoing and I should never have been charged,” he said.

Rogberg said Tesco rushed to the wrong judgment and then entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the SFO “on a completely false basis”.

The SFO said on Wednesday Tesco’s UK business had in 2014 created a false account of its financial position by overstating its profits.

“The DPA clearly outlines the extent of this criminal conduct for which the company has accepted full responsibility,” said SFO Director Lisa Osofsky.

Tesco’s UK unit Tesco Stores Limited agreed the DPA with the SFO in March 2017, paying a 129 million pound ($168 million) fine to settle a case against the company and avoid a criminal conviction. Tesco also paid 3 million pounds of investigation costs.

‘CONTRADICTORY OUTCOMES’

The case stemmed from Tesco overstating a profit forecast in 2014 by more than 250 million pounds, mainly due to booking commercial deals with suppliers too early.

Bush, Scouler and Rogberg were each charged by the SFO in September 2016 with one count of fraud by abuse of position and one count of false accounting.

Rogberg’s acquittal meant reporting restrictions relating to publication of the DPA were lifted.

Rogberg’s lawyer, Neil O’May of Norton Rose Fulbright, said the DPA was “plainly wrong” as it was based on the assumption of the guilt of the three former directors.

Bush’s lawyer, Ross Dixon of Hickman & Rose, said the case had exposed the fundamental unfairness of DPAs.

“We now have two contradictory outcomes: that of the criminal trial in which the allegations were dismissed for lack of evidence, and the DPA, based on the same allegations, which tells a different story.”

Tesco said the DPA was approved in 2014 by a senior High Court judge, Brian Leveson, “as being in the interests of justice.”

Tesco’s current chief executive, Dave Lewis, replaced Philip Clarke, shortly before the accounting scandal plunged the retailer into the worst crisis in its history, and has since re-built the company.

($1 = 0.7679 pounds)

Reporting by James Davey, Editing by Jon Boyle/Mark Potter/Jane Merriman

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